Privacy is a Public Good

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"How do we manage consent when data shared by one affects many? Take the case of DNA data. Should the decision to share data that reveals sensitive information about your family members be solely up to you? Shouldn’t they get a say as well? If so, how do you ask for consent from unborn future family members? How do we decide on data sharing and collection when the externalities of those decisions extend beyond the individual? What if data about me, a thirty-something year old hipster, could be used to reveal patterns about other thirty-something year old hipsters? Patterns that could result in them being profiled by insurers or landlords in ways they never consented to. How do we account for their privacy? The fact that one person’s decision about data sharing can affect the privacy of many motivates Fairfield and Engel to argue that privacy is a public good: “Individuals are vulnerable merely because others have been careless with their data. As a result, privacy protection requires group coordination. Failure of coordination means a failure of privacy. In short, privacy is a public good.” As with any other public good, privacy suffers from a free rider problem. As observed by the authors, when the benefits of disclosing data outweigh the risks for you personally, you are likely to share that data - even when doing so presents a much larger risk to society as a whole."

- Anouk Ruhaak [1]